LOS ANGELES - A federal grand jury has returned a superseding indictment that alleges Filipino nationals were smuggled into the United States and forced to work in two local residential elder care facilities. The indictment, which was returned yesterday afternoon, charges four defendants, two of whom are based in Long Beach and two of whom arranged to have aliens smuggled into the United States.
The four defendants named in the indictment are:
- Evelyn Pelayo, 51, a resident of Long Beach, who owns two elder care facilities where the victims allegedly were forced to work;
- Rodolfo Demafeliz , 39, of The Philippines, who arranged for aliens to enter the United States fraudulently, often under the pretense of participating in sport events;
- Rolleta Riazon, 28, of The Philippines, who was Demafeliz's assistant; and
- Darwin Padolina, 56, of Long Beach, who is Pelayo's husband.
Pelayo, Demafeliz and Riazon were arrested in early April and remain in custody. The superseding indictment adds Padolina as a defendant. Padolina is expected to surrender to federal authorities next week.
According to court documents filed in this case, victims were recruited from the Philippines with promises of employment in the United States. But, upon arrival, they were forced to work 24 hours a day to "repay" the defendants for bringing them into the country.
During the course of the investigation, agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) identified three victims who were working at the two elder care facilities; an additional three victims were found when the facilities were shut down. According to the indictment, the victims were forced to work 24 hours a day, everyday, with about half of their meager wages being retained by Pelayo to pay off their smuggling fees.
"Forcing human beings to work under these horrific conditions is simply intolerable behavior," said United States Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien. "Preventing modern-day slavery is a priority of the Justice Department, and these types of human trafficking cases will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Salvador Hernandez, assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles, said: "The defendants named in the indictment are alleged to have lured foreign nationals to the U.S. with promises of employment and a better quality of life, then turned a profit by overworking and threatening victims repeatedly. Members of the Los Angeles Human Trafficking Task Force will continue to investigate groups that engage in the buying and selling of people, and to educate our communities in how to recognize and report this deplorable crime."
Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles, stated: "These new charges underscore the serious nature of the crimes alleged in this case. That people would be held against their will and forced to work under slave-like conditions in this day and age is frankly, shocking. ICE is working closely with the FBI and its other law enforcement partners to ensure that those who engage in such unconscionable crimes are punished to the fullest extent of the law."
According to court documents, Pelayo recruited potential workers in the Philippines with the promise of legitimate work in her facilities. Once the victims agreed, Pelayo contacted Demafeliz, who is a Taekwondo martial arts instructor. After giving some training, Demafeliz would enter "students" into American Taekwondo tournaments as a ruse to obtain visas so they could enter the United States. Once in the United States, according to the indictment, the victims were brought to Pelayo's facilities, where Pelayo took away their passports and gave them strict instructions to not speak to family members of the elderly patients and not to fraternize with their co-workers. Pelayo allegedly threatened victims by vowing to falsely accuse them of crimes should they try to leave, and threatened to contact police and immigration officials who she said would deport the victims.
All four defendants are charged with conspiracy, a charge that carries a penalty of up to 10 years in federal prison. Demafeliz is charged with two counts of bringing in an alien for financial gain, while Pelayo is charged with aiding and abetting him; both defendants face a mandatory three-year sentence. Pelayo is charged with two counts of harboring illegal aliens, two counts of forced labor, two counts of seizing passports and two counts of human trafficking. If convicted of all the charges, Pelayo faces a statutory maximum sentence of 140 years in federal prison.
In Los Angeles, the FBI, ICE, the United States Attorney's office and the Los Angeles Police Department, along with several community groups, comprise the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area Task Force on Human Trafficking, whose mission is to improve tactics for identifying and rescuing trafficking victims, provide assistance to victims and prosecute those responsible for human trafficking. The Human Trafficking Task Force in Los Angeles has established a toll-free hotline - (800) 655-4095 - which victims and individuals with information about victims are encouraged to call. Information provided via the hotline may be provided anonymously and kept confidential.